U.S. Activists Protest Over Yom Kippur Ritual Chicken Slaughter

Three protests in Brooklyn this week draw attention to treatment of animals in the kaparot ritual, in which chickens are swung around the head and then slaughtered.

A chicken is swung over men's heads during the Kaparot ceremony in Jerusalem.
An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man swings a chicken over other men's heads during the Kaparot ceremony at a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem on October 1, 2014. AFP

.As Jews around the world get ready to mark Yom Kippur, animal rights activists in Brooklyn are speaking out against the controversial tradition of slaughtering chickens in a symbolic gesture of ahead of the Jewish Day of Atonement.

With the ritual, known as Kaparot, it is believed that Jews transfers sins from the past year into the chicken when they undertake the ritual, which involves swinging a chicken round the headb efore it is slaughtered.The ceremony is held before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which Jews traditionally observe with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. 

Every year, the treatment of the chickens and the ritual itself causes controversy. On issue is the way they are stored ahead of the slaughter -  in small plastic crates on the street. Last year, more than 2,000 stored in Borough Park, Brooklyn died because of the heat, the New York Daily News reported.

“It violates Jewish teachings requiring compassion for animals,” the newspaper cited Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit that has been battling the practice since 1994, as saying. This year, Davis has organized three protests against the ill-treatment of Kaparot chickens. These started Tuesday night in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

 

Although traditionally slaughtered chickens are donated to the poor, videos posted online show that often they chicken carcasses are merely thrown out, the newspaper said.   

The Agudath Israel of America defended the practice Monday.“We consider the ritual itself . . . as the religious right of those who practice it,” the New York Daily News cited Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the Agudath Israel of America, as saying. “And we think animal rights activists would better expend their energies by focusing on Butterball, not Borough Park.”

Earlier this month, the Orthodox umbrella body reissued a statement originally published seven years ago, that urges those who slaughter chickens ahead of Yom Kippur to conduct the ritual "properly" and "with proper care," Israel National News reported.

The notice mentioned"scrupulous compliance with the Torah’s laws of tza’ar ba’aleichayim (prevention of cruelty to animals) throughout the entire process of storing, transporting and handling the chickens, which should be done by responsible adults, not children," Israel National News reported.